Going into tonight’s Columbus East at Columbus North rivalry football game, it’s hard to tell if the Olympians are quite as good as a year ago when they walloped the Bull Dogs 48-13.
North certainly looks better.
But one thing is unchanged. East tailback Markell Jones, often referred to as “The Beast” by opposing coaches, is in a class by himself.
If the Bull Dogs can’t slow down Jones, they could experience another long and painful night.
“He’s got a great blend of talent,” North coach Tim Bless said of Jones, who rushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns last season against the Bull Dogs in only a half of play. “He has a low center of gravity, and he runs with speed and power.
“Another thing he does is to run angry.”
Jones looked angry in East’s season opener as he gained 296 yards rushing in the win over Bloomington North. He simply ran over potential tacklers.
Bless knows that his defenders could do everything perfectly, be in the right spot to make the tackle, and then get mashed by arguably this area’s best running back ever.
“That No. 28 is as good as they get,” Bless said of Jones. “There are certain things you can’t do anything about. It comes down to physical matchups.”
Bless said his team is ready to challenge the Olympians, but he also knows it is a tough task. East is the No. 1-ranked 4A team in the state.
“They don’t look much weaker,” Bless said. “They are still dominant along the line of scrimmage. Their defense is as strong as ever.”
East coach Bob Gaddis said his defense will need to have a great effort against the Bull Dogs. The Olympians gave up just 48 yards rushing against Bloomington North, but the Cougars are primarily a passing team.
“North is a physical football team that wants to run the ball,” Gaddis said. “They are a very sound team that will do what they do.”
Bless likes the battering ram approach of smash-mouth football, but his senior starting tailback Josh Holt is questionable for tonight due to a sprained knee. Backup Tyler Wang rushed for 118 yards in the opening win over Plainfield, but the Olympians are a much bigger challenge.
“The East front seven had that Bloomington North quarterback (Jack Smith) running for his life,” Bless said. “That front seven is rock solid.”
Besides trying to plow space for the tailbacks, North has another issue. The Bull Dogs fumbled eight times against Plainfield, losing two. Although Bless said two of those credited fumbles were muffed punts, he knows another similar performance will kill his team’s chances against a quality opponent.
“It’s just too many,” Bless said of the fumbles. “We need to focus on ball security and not having penalties.”
Ball security will be an issue for both teams as tonight’s game will be an emotional slugfest.
“Both sides obviously spend a lot of time on being physical,” Gaddis said.
Both coaches said they will try to keep their players calm and poised.
“There is a great interest for the fans and we want them to be fired up,” Gaddis said. “But you have to be focused on playing the game.”
Bless agrees. “We work hard not to put added pressure on the kids,” he said. “It’s already a frenzied environment. You walk a fine line preparing the kids and, no doubt about it, the kids who perform best are the ones who remain calm and even-keeled.”